LIVINGSTON, NJ — Livingston’s Holli Ehrlich and Robert Allen, husband-and-wife founders of New Media Connection, along with Livingston residents Martha Ackermann and Alan Karpas from Healthy Community Healthy Youth (HCHY) and Neeli Berger Margolis from LTown Lowdown reunited last weekend to produce their second musical telethon to benefit Livingston Neighbors Helping Neighbors (LNHN).
After raising more than $25,000 through the first Livingston Sings! event in April 2020—which showcased the talents of current and former Livingston residents with the goal of bringing the community “together at home” in support of an organization that was working hard to assist local families that were heavily affected by the COVID-19 lockdown—the Livingston Sings! Anniversary Show focused on highlighting those who have made significant contributions to the community over the last year.
The anniversary show also provided students involved in 2020 musical theater performances that were canceled at Livingston High School (LHS), Heritage Middle School (HMS), Mt. Pleasant Middle School (MPMS) and the Children’s Theatre of Livingston with an opportunity to share their talents. Additionally, viewers were also treated to special appearances from LHS alumni Jason Alexander (George Costanza from “Seinfeld”), Jared Goldsmith (Jared Klein from “Dear Evan Hansen”) and more.
“I loved highlighting a glimpse of the good in our community,” said Ackermann. “Giving our youth the opportunity to perform—especially since many of them didn’t have the opportunity because of COVID—was very special. Music always brings people together.”
Reiterating that the show’s purpose was to celebrate both “acts of kindness and the arts,” Allen and Ehrlich noted that Livingston residents and organizations “are doing good things and spurring others on to do the same
“You could be five or you could be 95 and still contribute,” said Ehrlich. “We are stronger and better together.”
On behalf of LNHN, president and co-founder Stacey Rubinstein shared that the organization has helped 53 families since being founded in 2016 and had distributed more than 35 emergency grants prior to the pandemic. Since the breakout of COVID-19, LNHN now assists 77 local families and has doubled its grants to 70.
“Fundraising from this event last year was a huge part of our COVID work,” said Rubinstein, adding that LNHN has also helped community members in various other ways, such as providing financial assistance to families for their utility or car insurances bills and keeping the shelves stocked at Livingston’s LNHN-managed food pantry, the Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse (CHOW).
Rubinstein also observed that the inaugural Livingston Sings! telethon heightened awareness about LNHN, which received donations from 400 new people as a direct result of the event. Since the April 2020 telethon, many individuals and groups looking to give back during the pandemic have selected LNHN as their beneficiary.
Among those recognized during the Livingston Sings! Anniversary Show for their contributions to LNHN were:
- Nick Santinelli, who voluntarily drives to Newark three-to-five times each day to drop off food donations at St. Ann’s Church, St. John’s Church and St. Michael’s Parish;
- LHS senior Shane Samuel, who serves as the volunteer manager at CHOW and also brings pizzas from his employer at Roseland’s Rezza Trattoria to be delivered from LNHN to Newark-based pantries;
- LHS sophomore Ryan Greenberg, a previous contestant on Food Network’s “Chopped,” who volunteers each Sunday to cook a meal for a LNHN family;
- LHS alumna Melissa Eisen, who established $5 Fridays as a means of funding the weekly purchase of ShopRite gift cards for food-insecure families through LNHN;
- Livingston sisters Allie, Gabby and Sarah Miller, who have used $1,600 raised through their “Heard You’re Hungry” cookie sales to purchase food for CHOW;
- A group of Livingston moms who have constructed and donated 25,000 sandwiches through The Sandwich Project to combat hunger;
- Many groups at Livingston Public Schools that have hosted fundraisers and drives on behalf of LNHN and CHOW as well as several individual children who have raised funds for LNHN on their birthdays and through neighborhood food drives; and
- The West Essex YMCA, Livingston Kiwanis, Livingston’s two Rotary Clubs, Livingston PBA Local #253, Livingston Elks Lodge 1855, Livingston UNICO, Livingston First Aid Squad, Livingston Fire Department, local places of worship and other private donors who have made monetary contributions.
“Livingston is such a generous community, and LNHN serves as a vehicle [for their donations],” said Rubinstein.
Ackermann elaborated on the “kindness and decency toward each other that increased during pandemic” by speaking about those who have assisted frontline workers as well as local businesses and the community at-large in various ways.
“People have been going out of their way and thinking out of the box,” said Ackermann. “It’s also been a collaborative effort between organizations.”
She specifically highlighted some of the following community efforts:
- The Livingston Chinese Association and Livingston Chinese School, which have collaboratively donated about $57,000 worth of personal protective equipment (PPE), including thousands of goggles, face shields, masks and more to those in need;
- Livingston Public Schools students and staff members involved in “Technology for a Change,” an award-winning initiative that has resulted in the donation of thousands of reusable PPE items that have been produced with the use of sewing machines and 3-D printers;
- Members of the Children’s Theatre of Livingston who used extra fabric from their costume closet to make face masks;
- Various efforts initiated through LTown Lowdown, such as a “store tour” to help followers locate PPE; menu postings through LTown Lowdown’s “Food Czar” Heidi Blum to encourage patronage of local restaurants; and virtual segments that Margolis said were intended to inspire “laughter and a sense of connectivity”;
- Local restaurants the have continuously provided complimentary meals to first responders as well as volunteers at the Livingston Mall COVID-19 vaccination centers;
- Resident Laura Kurland Goren, who co-founded LivWell 07039 to offer free, virtual classes featuring emotional learning, arts, yoga, fitness, meditation and more that are taught by professionals and high school students and also prompt participants to make donations to LNHN;
- The “Do Happy” program initiated under the guidance of Principal Bronawyn O’Leary at MPMS, where students nominated each other to tape themselves engaging in an activity that makes them happy, such as playing piano, dancing or running;
- Livingston native Jason Cohen, who has encouraged residents to help him keep the community clean by picking up garbage at specified locations every other weekend;
- Resident Christy Sanborn and her daughter, Lena, who have been delivering free and anonymous floral arrangements to residents to brighten their days; and
- Longtime resident Walter Joyce, who along with his daughter, Jeanne Silberman, and granddaughter, Natalie, has enlisted a group volunteers dubbed “Walter’s Angels” to help hundreds of senior citizens and others obtain vaccination appointments.
“This town is a special place,” said Allen, concluding that residents created “magic” by helping each other since the pandemic began.
To view the Livingston Sings! Anniversary Show in its entirety, CLICK HERE or visit <a…